picture of a mop with the text is there a right way to clean?

Is There a Right Way to Clean?

In 1971, Coke produced the “Hilltop” television commercial. Even if you weren’t alive then, you have likely heard the jingle sung by a group of teenagers singing looking like Julie Andrews in the mountains during Sound of Music. 

“I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony.”

With troops still in Vietnam, the message was of inspiration and hope, intended to unite people everywhere… with a Coke. 

A similar environment exists right now as we start to emerge from the pandemic. Things have been divisive, but one thing that unites us all is that in some form, pretty much everyone cleans. In fact, we’ve cleaned more in the past 12 months than we ever have. And it’s anticipated that this will continue for the foreseeable future. 

But are you cleaning the right way? Is there a “right way” to clean? You just spray and wipe, right? Run the vacuum. If it looks clean, it must be clean, right?

Unless you’re in the cleaning industry, there’s a good chance you don’t know:

  1. You should always clean from top to bottom.
  2. Most disinfectants require the first step of cleaning and an established dwell time in order to work effectively.
  3. You should maintain different cleaning tools for different areas of your home or building.

This might not seem like a big deal, but when you have a bunch of people cleaning and not using cleaning products improperly, we run into issues with indoor air quality, chemical accidents, cross contamination, and more.  

“I’d like to teach the world to clean, in perfect harmony…”

Picture this scenario…

Short on staff, a housekeeping manager asks Jim, who just arrived for his first day on the job, to start cleaning rooms. She shows Jim the supply cart and gives him a list of tasks he needs to complete in each room.  

Jim enters the first room and removes the sheets from the bed. Next, he vacuums the floors and wipes down surfaces throughout the room—the nightstands, desktops, switches and door handles. Spotting a cobweb near the ceiling, he removes it with an extension wand, also dusting the top of the armoire. 

Jim walks into the restroom next and sprays the faucet, toilet and shower with disinfectant spray, immediately wiping them all down with the same cloth used in the main room. After cleaning the toilet, he mops the floors and leaves, repeating the process in the next room.

What’s wrong with this scene?

You’ve got to give Jim some credit. He followed the instructions he was given, but in this scenario, Jim isn’t cleaning. He’s pushing dirt around, and with it, he’s likely moving dirt, bacteria and likely viruses around too. 

As we mentioned earlier, this can cause a host of issues—within a home, a hotel, a hospital—any indoor environment of any size.

Yes, there is a right way to clean. And the better the protocols and systems you have in place—and the training that supports those protocols and systems—the cleaner and healthier your indoor spaces will be.

A moment to pause and reflect…

For most of this, this past year has felt a lot like we’ve been treading water in the middle of a huge lake. But finally, we can see a boat coming toward us to offer a break. As we get a moment to pause, it’s important to reflect on what went right during the pandemic. What can we improve?

COVID-19 has forced us to acknowledge the importance of cleaning in our indoor environments. It’s a pathogen that can be spread through hard surfaces, and it isn’t the last pathogen that will spread this way. In fact, there’s a good chance that we’ll face another pathogen that has even greater transmissibility via fomites in the not-so-distant future. 

Look around your house, your children’s schools, the hotels and stores you visit. Are they being cleaned properly, or are people just pushing dirt around? Have workers received training and do they understand that you should work from top to bottom when cleaning a room? Do they understand that you can’t just spray a disinfectant and wipe it with the same cloth you’ve used to clean the rest of the building?

There’s a science to cleaning, and it’s important we follow that science to keep our indoor environments safe and healthy for everyone. 

“I’d like to teach the world to clean, in perfect harmony.”

If We Want Cleaner Buildings, We Need to Start Respecting Cleaning Workers

As of Jan. 30, it’s been exactly one year since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global health emergency. At that point, we didn’t know much about the virus. No one had any idea how drastically their lives would change less than two months later.

From the start, the CDC has maintained that coronavirus can spread by respiratory droplets which can be inhaled, deposited on surfaces and objects and transferred by touch, or through airborne particles or aerosol transmission. While research has shown that transmission through hard surfaces isn’t as likely as previously thought, the potential for contamination has pushed many cleaning workers to the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19.

On March 18, a Bloomberg article asked “What about the Workers Cleaning Up Coronavirus?” Journalists shared Lilliana’s story, a day porter for a BSC who who was concerned about the lack of PPE and potential exposure to the virus. 

A BBC article asked, “Coronavirus: Are hospital cleaners forgotten heroes in this crisis?”

Journalist Marianna Brady writes, “Cleanliness and hygiene has never seemed of greater concern than it is now. So should the people making sure hospitals are free of germs be getting more of a voice?”

Yet as many worked in potentially risky situations to keep buildings, others lost their jobs. From housekeepers in hotels, resorts and schools to cleaners like Lilliana who cleaned commercial office buildings, when people stayed home, many cleaners lost. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Hawaii, where a report by the American Hotel and Lodging Association revealed that Hawaiian hotels would remain below 50 percent occupancy through 2021. 

Cleaner Buildings Starts with Respect

We’ve talked about showing appreciation for cleaning workers and elevating their visibility and profile throughout business operations, long before the pandemic hit. It’s the primary focus of our business—we believe all custodial workers should be treated like first-class citizens. This means providing training, living wages, opportunities for advancement, and most of all, decency and respect, for the people who clean our buildings. 

Sadly, despite all that custodians have given during the pandemic, we haven’t seen where that’s equated into more opportunity and respect. 

In a recent editorial for The Colorado Sun, Fátima Alhexia Boylen, founder and president of Boylen Cleaning Services in Denver, described a situation at a local grocery where employees were taunting a man who swept the grocery aisles. 

“Disrespect and invisibility is not something anyone should have to get used to. But sadly, for cleaning workers, it’s everywhere,” she writes.

Boylen’s experiences in the poor treatment of cleaning workers were reaffirmed by a recent study of environmental service workers (ESWs) in hospitals published in the American Journal of Infection Control. Lack of training and other barriers, including “low status” and lack of communication were listed as primary reasons why workers felt they provided little value to the organizations where they worked.

Study authors note that this lack of structure and poor treatment of ESWs can lead to the risk of infection. 

“To sustain improvements in disinfection practices, education/training sessions need to be continuous,” the study states. “The long-term commitment of an organization is also essential for continuous improvement in disinfection outcomes. While knowledge transfer is critical for behavior change, education/training also needs to focus on the skills and perceptions of ESWs.”

Jane Walker, a cleaner at a major pharmaceutical company, recently spoke to a journalist about the low morale of the cleaning team since the start of the pandemic. 

“The lowest of the low. I’ve never seen team morale like this. People call out [sick] all the time and their excuses are for the team, not management. But the whole team just doesn’t wanna be there. It’s funny man, we all say, “You don’t have to be here.”

A Better Clean for Us All

The pandemic will impact several facets of office life, with a demand for cleaner environments high on improvements. 

Mike DiBlasi, a managing director for CBRE in Tampa told a local reporter, “From better ventilation to greener cleaning procedures, everything’s on the table. A lot of the bigger landlords have already started implementing ways to provide a more sanitary and cleaner environment.”

But if we want cleaner workplaces, we need to start doing something about the way cleaning workers are treated. This starts with all of us.  

As research Zach Mercurio so eloquently shares in his editorial, “It’s Time to Stop Dehumanizing Frontline Workers”:

People in stigmatized jobs are part of your routine, their invisibility a byproduct of both their indispensability and good work doing the things most of us have the luxury of forgetting about, the work that enables us to live.

They comprise the workforces of the companies we love. They ensure safe roads to drive on, ship our Amazon packages, clean our doctor’s offices, ready our hotel rooms, decontaminate our drinking water, and dispose of our trash.

As individuals, organizations, and society, we should thank them, but above all, we should respect and revere them and their important occupations.

Join us for “DIY Workloading,” our next online mini-course class, next week!

“How long should it take a cleaning worker to vacuum the floors in a 1,000 square foot room?”

“How many custodians do I need to clean a new building?”

“How can I balance the workload to make sure that everyone has an equitable set of tasks?”

These are just a few of the common questions custodial managers have as they configure (or reconfigure) workloads within their buildings.

If you’re looking for tools that will help you develop meaningful data to workload to teams, you won’t want to miss our next Online Mini-Course, “Introduction to DIY Workloading” on Jan. 28, 2021, at 11 a.m. MST. 

This course is for supervisors and managers in cleaning organizations and is designed to provide a simplified, basic understanding of Workloading as it relates to Team Cleaning. After completing the course, you will be able to determine how long it will take you to perform a cleaning activity, including steps, variables and task times. If you follow a team cleaning format or are exploring how a team cleaning system might benefit your operation, this is the course for you. 

During this hour-long training course, you will learn:

  • How cleaning tasks and times can form the foundation of your custodial program.
  • How times and frequencies are developed.
  • How Team Cleaning standardizes the workload.

The tuition for this mini-course is $45.00. This includes 45 minutes of instruction by Ben Walker and 15 minutes Q&A period. All participants will receive an E-book version of 99 Workloading Times a DIY Workloading Times Guide by John Walker ($21.95 value). 

About the Speaker: 

Ben Walker is the Chief Strategy Officer for ManageMen. In addition to his consulting work, Walker compiled the data for 612 Cleaning Times and Tasks. Ben Walker performs progress and baseline audits for large cleaning operations. He has experience auditing the cleaning program for hundreds of buildings nationwide.

He specializes in the (OS1) cleaning process, safety, green, source reduction, public relations, training, and cleaning education. ManageMen’s clients include Sandia National Labs, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas Tech University, Kansas State University, Valparaiso University, Provo City School District, Michigan State University, The University of Michigan, Los Angeles Habilitation House (LAHH), US Postal Service, and GMI Building Services.

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Our Top 10 Most Read Blog Posts of 2020

2020: A year that will go down in the history books. That couldn’t be more true for custodial professionals who suddenly were thrust onto the public stage as a pandemic took hold throughout the world. The same goes for most of us in the cleaning industry—while manufacturers battled unprecedented demands on the supply chain, others scrambled to prepare training and new certifications. Us? Well, we were prepared. Our users were prepared.

Our founder, John Walker, had anticipated the potential for something like this to happen, going so far as to prepare a pandemic playbook. A lot of people called us, wanting to know how to better create systems around their cleaning programs. A lot of people combed our website looking for information.

If this list is any indication, we can rest assured that people will appreciate the value of cleaning—and the people who do the work of cleaning—long after 2020 is over.

10. Cleaning Classrooms Safely – Teacher’s Checklist 

How can teachers make sure surfaces in their classrooms stay clean during  the pandemic?  We put together a checklist to help.

See the post and infographic here: https://managemen.com/cleaning-classrooms-safely-a-teachers-checklist-with-infographic/

9. Top 10 Frustrations of Custodial Professionals

The people who make it in this industry are problem solvers. Every day, they put together a new puzzle — figuring out which piece needs to go where to complete the puzzle of a clean building. It’s not an easy job, so to help others know they aren’t alone, we developed a list of the most commonly overheard challenges of custodial professionals.

Read the full list of complaints here: https://managemen.com/the-top-10-frustrations-of-custodial-professionals/

8. Coronavirus Communication: How to Tell Building Occupants We’ve Got This

To assist (OS1) teams with communicating their plans to key stakeholders and building occupants within their facilities, we developed a sample communication to help them understand that all of the necessary systems were in place for pandemic preparedness.

Read that post here: https://managemen.com/coronavirus-communication-how-to-tell-building-occupants-weve-got-this/

7. Why Cleaning Matters

It doesn’t matter where or what you clean, this is not an easy business. We’ve pulled together a list of four extremely important reasons why cleaning matters, along with a printable to remind yourself and your team just how important your work is.

Read that post here: https://managemen.com/why-cleaning-matters/

6. Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to a Cleaning Operation

We can benefit from looking at a cleaning operation from the framework of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There are certain fundamental needs within a custodial operation that must be met in order for the program to be effective and meet certain higher-level goals. Too often, our conversation about cleaning is just through a specific lens rather than looking at the operation as a whole.

Read more about how you can apply the Hierarchy of Needs to your cleaning operation here: https://managemen.com/applying-maslows-hierarchy-of-needs-to-a-cleaning-operation/

5. How the White Wings Cleaned Up NYC

Lacking any formalized sanitation and refuse system, New York City was drowning in garbage and filth in the late 1800s. Its current mayor, William Strong, called for Colonel George Waring to return and assume the position of sanitation engineer. The job of tackling the city’s overwhelming sanitation issues would be no easy feat, and Waring approached the job as he would approach combat on the battlefield. 

Read more about how George Waring and the White Wings cleaned up New York City here: https://managemen.com/from-the-history-books-how-the-white-wings-cleaned-up-new-york-city/

4. The Case Against Spraying Disinfectant Everywhere: Raise your hand if you’ve seen a picture of a heavily suited worker spraying what’s assumed to be disinfectant on sidewalks and streets in the past four months.

For cleaning professionals, this image might be somewhat alarming. Mostly because it demonstrates what we already know—that the majority of people throughout the world have a limited understanding of the science of cleaning. 

Read more: https://managemen.com/the-case-against-spraying-disinfectant-everywhere/

3. Please Take a Minute to Thank a Cleaner: While we rest, cleaners are lifting heavy trash bags and mop buckets, pushing vacuums and pulling overstocked carts. But this effort doesn’t come without a price. Due to the labor-intensive nature of their work, janitors have one of the highest rates of job-related injuries. Injuries from slips and falls or musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that cause extreme pain in areas such as their backs (46 percent of all custodial-related MSDs), shoulders (15 percent of custodial-related MSDs), necks and legs. 

Read more: https://managemen.com/please-take-a-minute-to-thank-a-cleaner/

2. Think Janitor is a Dirty Word? No, and Here’s Why: If you trace the etymology of the word “janitor,” it doesn’t take much research to find that the term is tied to deity. “Janus” from which “janitor” is derived, was a Roman god of beginnings and ends; metaphorically he represented doors and passages. In images, he’s often depicted with two faces that allow him to look to the future and the past. 

Read why Janitor isn’t a dirty word here: https://managemen.com/think-janitor-is-a-dirty-word-no-and-heres-why/

1. Why Dirty Schools are a Big Problemand What We Can Do to Clean Them Up

The top post of this year looks at some of the most common issues that stem from dirty schools—things like poor performance and reduced morale. But it’s not just the issues—we dig into strategies that could help fix the problem of dirty schools. Spoiler alert: It starts with management.

Read the post here: https://managemen.com/why-dirty-schools-are-a-big-problem-and-what-we-can-do-to-clean-them-up/

Cleaning Conversations: Josh Sego, Michigan State University

When the pandemic started, everyone started cleaning but it became increasingly difficult to recruit and train cleaning workers. Josh Sego is an (OS1) Trainer and the 2019 (OS1) Trainer of the Year. He shares some of the updates he’s making to their training program along with advice for other custodial managers who are trying to evolve their training platforms in this new environment.

silhouette of a person mopping a floor with text Cleaning Conversations: Perspectives from the people who keep our buildings clean James Peel, Texas Tech University

Cleaning Conversations: James Peel, Texas Tech University

Looking for a way to schedule cleaning workers at Texas Tech University (TTU), James Peel reached out to the University of Texas at Austin to learn about (OS1), the System they follow for cleaning processes and measurement. They invited him down to see (OS1) at work and James jumped in the car with a few others on his management team.

It didn’t take long to see what the hype was all about—when James and his team saw UT’s custodians line up to receive their daily supply kits and keys to the areas they were assigned, they were sold on (OS1).

That was in 2019, and despite the challenges of the pandemic, Peel has continued leading the custodial team through the (OS1) transition process. They’ve held socially distanced boot camps, multiple workloading sessions (which, he says are his favorite) and inspired dozens of employees with a renewed passion for cleaning and a commitment to providing healthy buildings for students, faculty and staff. We talk to James about this process and more, during this episode of Cleaning Conversations.

5 Characteristics Custodial Leaders Need Right Now

“All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.” — John Kenneth Galbraith

Connections. We break them when we clean and disinfect surfaces throughout a building, breaking the chain of infection. Yet as a business leader, it’s also essential we build and maintain connections—particularly with the people on your team.

With so much uncertainty and disruption, many people around the globe are looking for guidance and stability. Childcare, concern of an elderly family member, personal health—these are just a few of the concerns clouding our minds right now, including the people on your team.

This presents an amazing opportunity for custodial managers to inspire and lead. 

According to leadership expert Nancy Koehn, “…real leaders are not born; the ability to help others triumph over adversity is not written into their genetic code. They are, instead, made. They are forged in crisis. Leaders become ‘real’ when they practice a few key behaviors that girls and inspire people through difficult times.” 

As we look to help our teams look beyond the shadows, what characteristics can effective leaders reveal to encourage those around us to see a future opportunity?

1. VISION

Jim Hagemann Snabe, Chairman at Siemens AG suggests that when business leaders consider a post COVID world, they should look at it as a “renewal, not a return.” 

What would a renewal of your cleaning operation look like? If you received additional budget to staff, train and supply your department, what would you want to add and why? Would you do a better job of standardizing your processes? Measuring cleaning performance? Providing additional training?

Facilities managers and custodial professionals can expect to play a bigger role in business operations following the pandemic as leaders will have a much greater appreciation for their expertise. Prepare a vision for the role of your team in a post pandemic environment and how you can improve the service you deliver. Being able to clearly communicate this vision will to only inspire your team, but also the leadership. 

2. FLEXIBILITY

Martial arts master Bruce Lee is coined with saying: “Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.” 

Due to the nature of the work, flexibility is a characteristic many custodial professionals already demonstrate, but this is increasingly important during a crisis. From inventory to staff, schedules to moods, almost everything is in a state of flux. Demonstrating flexibility and a growth mindset will help you better adapt and “bend with the wind.” 

3. AUTHENTICITY

When COVID first hit, Marriott President and CEO Arne Sorenson responded less than a week later in a message to Marriott employees. His message was honest, immediately tackling several sensitive topics including his personal health and the impact of COVID on their business. 

“I can tell you that I have never had a more difficult moment than this one. There is simply nothing worse than telling highly valued associates—people who are the very heart of this company—that their roles are being impacted by events completely outside of their control,” he said.

Employees watch their leaders carefully. Don’t hesitate to keep it real with your employees. This will help you earn their respect. 

4. RESILIENCY

Setbacks are inevitable. This applies to life in general, but particularly when you’re leading others during a crisis. Being resilient not only means having a plan in place to protect your team from the impact of a pandemic, but also recovering quickly when setbacks occur. 

Forbes Magazine identifies these key steps to becoming a more resilient leader: communicate powerfully, be coachable, build positive and trusting relationships, embrace risk, develop others, champion change and act decisively.  

Resiliency means creating balance by accepting the things we can’t change and creating meaningful change where we are able. 

5. INCLUSIVITY

Custodial teams are often one of the most diverse groups within a business. Building an environment where everyone on your team feels that they are accepted and belong should be a top priority for every custodial professional right now. 

According to Harvard Business Review, “what leaders say and do makes up to a 70 percent difference as to whether an individual reports feeling included.”

Recognizing biases, demonstrating cultural intelligence, collaboration and humility are just a few of the key traits inclusive leaders possess. Within a custodial operation, these attributes can inspire greater productivity than any new piece of equipment. 

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Cleaning is in the spotlight right now. From profiles highlighting the safety risks to janitors to features of cleaning processes, there’s a lot of dialogue happening around how buildings are cleaned.

By setting a vision for your team and leading them through the other side of this thing, you can help ensure that everyone emerges stronger. 

Cleaning Conversations: Jeff Hawkins, Provo City School District

Approximately 70-75 percent of the custodial team at Provo City School District is comprised of students, so when schools closed in the spring, that left Jeff Hawkins and his team with a massive staffing shortage. With all hands on deck, staff from other departments pitched in to learn the (OS1) System and clean schools.

With so much of the current conversation focused around disinfection, Jeff talks about how the (OS1) System has prepared them for executing cleaning during a pandemic situation, so his team has the training, tools and program to keep students, teachers and staff safe.

Cleaning Classrooms Safely: A Teacher’s Checklist [with infographic]

With the topic of reopening schools leading many conversations right now, we’ve had a lot of questions about how teachers and administrators can work with custodial teams to make sure classrooms and common areas to limit the potential for COVID to spread on hard surfaces.* 

Tips for helping teachers keep classrooms clean and safe.

Whether you work in a school or know a student who will be returning to the classroom this fall, these steps can help teachers keep classrooms clean and safe:

  1. Clean, then disinfect. Kids make messes. And with calls for students to eat lunch in the classroom, those messes will only increase. It’s important to know that in order for a disinfectant to work, you must first clean the surface to remove any foreign substances or barriers and then apply the disinfectant.  
  2. Focus on touch points. Little hands are constantly touching, but what are some of the most often touched surfaces within your classroom? Faucet handles, chair backs, keyboards, door handles and desks are all items that should be disinfected throughout the day to limit the opportunity for virus spread.
  3. Follow label instructions. Just like teachers need time after a long day, disinfectants also need time to sit and dwell in order to work effectively. How much time is indicated on the back of the bottle and can range between 2 to 10 minutes. 
  4. Launder cleaning cloths regularly. Disposable wipes are hard to find right now, so a lot of teachers will be using donated disinfectant sprays or spray from the custodial team. If using your own cleaning cloths, make sure to use a fresh cloth each day to avoid cross contamination.
  5. Safely store cleaning chemicals. Make sure curious hands don’t find cleaning chemicals and be sure to lock all disinfectant supplies in a secure area.
  6. Use bleach in a pinch. With wipes and ready-to-use disinfectants in short supply, the CDC recommends using a diluted bleach solution to disinfect appropriate hard surfaces. To make a solution, mix 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of room temperature water OR 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of room temperature water.
  7. Clear desks and tables nightly. Stack books, papers and supplies on desks to keep tables and other surfaces clear for custodial teams to disinfect in the evenings. A lot of custodial teams will be working with limited resources, so every little bit helps.

* As the CDC notes, hard surface transmission is not thought to be the primary way the virus spreads, but recommends several cleaning and disinfection protocols to maintain healthy environments. These tips are designed to supplement regular cleanings performed by custodial teams in a school. Clean schools are critical for learning both now and once the pandemic is over. 

Cleaning Conversations: Ben Walker

In this episode of Cleaning Conversations, we spoke to Ben Walker, COO of ManageMen about how the pandemic has impacted ManageMen’s training and events, shifts and opportunities he sees for the cleaning industry and the most valuable advice he’s ever received. If you have anything to do with cleaning in a facility beyond your home or are interested in strategies to improve public health, you won’t want to miss this insightful conversation.